A group in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin seeks to recall County Executive Bob Ziegelbauer.
The underlying issue is that Ziegelbauer wants to sell (privatize) the county nursing home, and his opponents don’t want that to happen.
In the course of the recall campaign, Ziegelbauer’s opponents filed an open records request seeking copies of some Ziegelbauer e-mails, and his schedule.
Ziegelbauer fired back with his own open records request.
This was just all too much for the local newspaper, the Manitowoc Herald Times, which has pronounced judgment on both of them.
They appear to be fishing for anything they can use to embarrass one another. The recall group filed first. The county executive responded in kind….The pettiness is palpable. The unintended consequence is civic embarrassment.
If I lived in Manitowoc County, I’d be civically embarrassed that my local newspaper doesn’t have the stomach for a good political brawl.
Civic engagement is a good thing. We should want people to care about politics and about the quality of local government. The same newspapers that lecture people to vote shouldn’t presume to lecture people who both vote and engage in the myriad other forms of activism their laws entitle them to.
I occasionally get the impression that some newspapers believe they’re the only people who ought to be allowed or encouraged to file open records requests. Perhaps they feel that when civic activists go ahead and file their own, this implicitly means that the newspaper isn’t doing the job it should be doing. And maybe it does mean that.
In an era of newsroom cutbacks and political apathy, it’s wrong, wrong, wrong for newspapers to launch this kind of chilling tirade against folks with a point-of-view who care about their local government.
(I realize that most people who read this blog are anything but apathetic. I’m talking about the general decline in voting rates and civic engagement.)